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Utah May Hold Back Merit-Pay Funds

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A while back, Teacher Beat predicted that states were likely to pull the brakes on merit-pay plans, given the economic freefall. And we hate to say it, but we were right.

Out of Utah comes news that the state board of education is considering delaying $20 million in promised performance-pay funds for teachers, because of looming budget cuts.

Teachers in participating districts and charter schools would have received an average of $500 each under the merit-pay program.

Teachers, of course, are not so happy about the news, since it comes after they've spent a year working for the bonuses.

Utah Education Association spokesman Mike Kelley told the Deseret News that teachers have been participating "in what they thought would be a compensation plan and working toward what they thought would be a bonus."

"There are teachers who have been counting on it," he added.

While one can understand the teachers' disappointment, some would argue it is better to hold back on bonuses than lay off teachers and cut essential school programs. Besides, who knows, this could be great ammunition for teachers' unions, which have always questioned the sustainability of performance-pay programs.

1 Comment

Even if there were an objective and accurate way to measure teacher effectiveness, there are good reasons to shun the concept of merit pay.

Here's one perspective on merit pay that was posted on a http://www.teachers.net/mentors forum.

If you've ever worked in a district that has merit pay, I can tell you that the laziest teachers in the district are in the "high rent district" areas, and they are paid the most because those kids learn in spite of everything. The new teachers always begin in the "ghetto" schools and work their tails off, usually beating their heads against the wall. Before my husband was transferred here, I worked in a high achieving school. Thus, I was paid more, but always felt sorry for the teachers who worked their tails off in the inner city schools, and were compensated less for their efforts.

As a former teacher, I cannot imagine and have not seen a merit pay system that would have the intended effect of improving instruction; rather, I believe there is an overall negative effect connected to merit pay.

Putting teachers in the position of competing for merit pay (and surely, there would be competition for limited dollars) encourages individual teachers to develop but not share successful lessons and teaching strategies. Rather than feeling encouraged to share expertise and ideas, teachers would be incentivized to protect as marketable intellectual property the very talent we should be encouraging them to share. In a field where the spreading of ideas, expertise, outstanding lessons and resources is crucial to the success of students, merit pay encourages a sense of competition and individual ownership of ideas that need to be disseminated.

We need to invest the money and effort into better support for new teachers, and to re-train or cull ineffective teachers, not set up a system that encourages individuals to hoard their good ideas and best practices.

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